Saudi Arabian daily Arab News reported that the first group of 350 Sri Lankan Haj pilgrims arrived at Jeddah’s Haj Terminal via Saudi Arabian Airlines and they were received by Sri Lankan Ambassador Ahmed A. Jawad and Consul General Sabarullah Khan.
Sri Lanka is to send an enhanced number of pilgrims this year since the government’s reduced Haj package has attracted a larger number of pilgrims.
Sri Lankan Haj operations this year have been streamlined through a committee headed by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Other members of the committee include Governor of the Western Province Alavi Mowlana, Deputy Minister for Environment Faiszer Mustapha and former Deputy Mayor of Colombo Azath Salley.
The cost of the pilgrimage in the previous years amounted to about Rs. 500,000 and the new Haj Committee has reduced the price to Rs. 325,000.
The 350 pilgrims who arrived was the first group of 5,800 pilgrims expected to proceed on the pilgrimage this year. The remaining pilgrims are expected to leave in 14 more flights shortly. The flight carrying the final batch of pilgrims will arrive at Jeddah Airport on 12 November. Women and children constitute about half of the pilgrims.
Sri Lankan pilgrims will be brought to the Kingdom in flights run by Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, SriLankan Airlines and Oman Airways.
Last year, 4,500 persons made the Haj Pilgrimage although the quota given to Sri Lanka was increased to 5,800. The Government Haj committee has appointed a three-member coordinating committee in Makkah to supervise Haj arrangements and liaise with the Saudi authorities. Another special team has been formed by the Sri Lankan consulate in Jeddah to look after the interests of Sri Lankan pilgrims.
A Sri Lankan medical team is also expected to join the pilgrims